McEwans Lager ad featuring You’ve Got the Power by Win (agency: Collett Dickenson Pearce, 1986)
As an adult, it’s rare to be frightened by an advert. But back in the mid-80s, I remember one TV ad scaring the living shit out of me (shown above). I can recall everything about it: the zombie-like characters, the concept of pushing giant balls up neverending steps and the stirring music that seemed to suit the desolate tone perfectly. It was immersive, gripping and (for me) pretty pant-soiling stuff. But ads don’t employ this aesthetic anymore: they don’t want to scare you. In fact they do the complete opposite – they’re frequently soft, fluffy, handmade-looking things for products that just want to be your friend. And invariably, the choice of music or soundtrack follows suit: arpeggiated acoustic guitar? Check. Softly spoken, whimsical vocals? Check. These are prerequisites in advertising’s obsession with the sound of twee.